In fact, it has been quite a week for women being brutally honest about their pain. A day before Emin’s illness became public, the American model Chrissy Teigen – who is married to singer John Legend – wrote a raw online essay about her recent miscarriage. She did so, in part, to address the criticism she had faced after posting on Instagram a number of intimate, graphic black and white photographs taken when she was in hospital losing her baby son. To paraphrase the backlash: “We don’t need to see these… some things should be kept private”.
Like Emin, scorned for sharing her experiences of rape and abortion, Teigen was derided for sharing her miscarriage photographs. We haven’t come as far as we might like to think.
“I cannot express how little I care that you hate the photos. How little I care that it’s something you wouldn’t have done. I lived it, I chose to do it, and more than anything, these photos aren’t for anyone but the people who have lived this or are curious enough to wonder what something like this is like. These photos are only for the people who need them. The thoughts of others do not matter to me,” Teigen wrote.
People who need them. There are plenty of people, women and men, who need those in the public eye to be vulnerable for us. To be generous in sharing the awful things they are going through. To break taboos. To help many feel less alone. To help others get symptoms checked. By sharing their pain, they are liberating us.
One of the details common to both women’s stories this week, was their wish not to have to respond to every well wisher.
Emin emailed 70 of her circle and told them: “Do not contact me. Don’t call me. Don’t text me. Don’t email me. If you want to know how I am, call the studio. If you do contact me, you will not be on this mailing list any more”.
Teigen admitted that “some of the best letters started with, “You don’t have to respond to this, but…”. For me, the “no need to respond” note was such a true relief”.
Despite not feeling able to respond to loved ones, concerned friends and kind words, they have put their heartbreaking pain in the public domain to help the rest of us. We should be grateful.
This article first appeared in Claire Cohen’s weekly newsletter, The 51 Per Cent. Sign up (for free) to get her news and views in your inbox every Thursday, click here.